One can always say with Thomas [Aquinas] that unbelief is unnatural, but at the same time it is always true that human beings cannot completely dispel the strange twilight that hangs over the question of the eternal, that God must cross over to them and talk to them if real relations are to be established with him… but how should this happen?
…God’s speaking to us reaches us through men and women who have listened to God and come into contact with God.
To Look on Christ, 29
Reflection – Ratzinger has often reflected on this theme, namely, the difficulty of faith for human beings at all times, but most especially in our time. He has reflected on it in books such as Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, Introduction to Christianity, and Faith and the Future.
It is this paradoxical situation: we are made to reach out beyond ourselves and beyond the natural order into a transcendent reality. Religion is a naturally occurring phenomenon, universal across all human cultures and civilizations. At the same time, this ‘reaching out’ is a reaching out into darkness, into mystery, into the great unknown. And so there is a drawing back that is equally ‘natural’ to us (at least it feels natural).
We are filled with longings and desires that pull us beyond ourselves and that are satisfied by no created being. At the same time, we are afraid of the heights, afraid of where this mysterious Being who draws us out may take us, afraid of the Great Unknown. And we hesitate. We are strange, confused, contradictory creatures, we humans.
And God indeed must come to us. We cannot just go to Him. To some degree this is because of our fallen condition, our heightened fears and selfish tendencies that result from our rebellion against God and against truth. But I think it’s also how God intended it in the beginning—not that it be so hard, but that it be His initiative, His movement towards us. In the garden, God came to the man and woman and walked and talked with them in the cool of the evening. God comes to us; we cannot go to Him.
And so now, as Ratzinger has often said in his writings, this terrible gap, this terrible abyss that has formed between God and man has been bridged. First by Jesus, but then by the host of men and women, Mary first among them, who have come to know God through, with, and in Jesus.
The saints—this is how we come to know God and come to real relationship with Him. Not only the canonized ones, but the truly good, spiritual people who we are blessed to encounter in our lives. People who walk and talk with God in the heat of the day and the cool of the evening. People who have listened to God and let Him shape their humanity into a divine pattern.
This is how we come to know God. This is why (I maintain) Jesus established a Church, a place where we could come together, to know the Lord together. Where my darkness can meet your light, and your darkness can meet my light. It’s so simple. We help each other, even in the midst of the human struggles and difficulties of life in the Church. We help each other, or at least we’re meant to. And it is in our own ‘walking and talking’ with God in the light and darkness of our lives that we become those very saints, become what we are meant to be.
And as we help each other as we’re meant to, we shine that light to those outside the Church, those who may be searching for God and not quite know where to find Him. If they see us loving each other, they may just draw a bit closer to us, and to the Lord who brings us together. And that’s how the New Evangelization works.